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“Your baby is ugly!” – The schizophrenic world of overlapping software portfolios

No mother will ever say “My baby is the ugliest”. And no product manager will allow their brainchild to commit harakiri, following a software company acquisition.

I had the dubious pleasure to live and breathe this paranoid madness for over a decade, and I can tell you it’s neither pretty nor dignified.

Just look at our little ECM corner of the world:

  • FileNet ECM vs. IBM Content Manager vs. Content Manager on Demand
  • FileNet BPM vs. Websphere vs. Lombardi
  • IBM Records Manager (Tarian) vs. IBM Enterprise Records (FileNet)
  • Metastorm vs. Global 360 vs. Cordys
  • Tibco vs. Staffware
  • LiveLink vs. Hummingbird vs. Documentum
  • Vignette vs. RedDot
  • Etc. vs. Etc. vs. Etc.

Look carefully at the most acquisitive companies in the sector: It’s always a bloodbath.

Today the latest victims entered the fray: OnBase vs. Perceptive vs. Saperion or OnBase VNA vs. Acuo VNA, etc.

Naturally, the acquiring CEO – usually shoulder to shoulder with the incoming comrade – will issue reassuring PR statements to appease the acquired user-base: “Welcome to our happy family, we love you too! It’s going to be great!” (except in the case of FileNet and Lombardi where IBM’s message was more targeted to the existing user base: “Yes, we bought a prettier child, but we will never stop loving you”). Today’s example by Hyland is no exception…

And with the pleasantries completed, the gruesome reality starts to creep in: Innovators and Thought leader executives are either leaving in drones, or patiently waiting out their gardening leave or golden-handcuff term to expire. Marketing will talk about “coexistence” and “interoperation” and “unifying functionality” and “rationalising capabilities” and “ecosystems” across the portfolio. In the back room, skeletal engineering resources will be tearing each other’s hair out, scrounging for scraps of headcount to keep up with just the most basic bug-fixes on totally incompatible architectures, creating the QA matrices from hell. While salesmen in the field will try to pinch each other’s deals and upsell incompatible “extensibility” features creating Frankenstein implementation monsters that will never see the light of production, or another version update. Ever!

You think I’m exaggerating? Just ask any pre-sales support engineer who has had to live through these acquisitions… Pure madness!

The legend of ancient Spartans throwing their disabled and diseased children off a cliff, in order to maintain a superior warrior race, may have been disputed by archaeologists, but the software industry could take some lessons and apply some of the same rationale: less emotional attachment to the lesser products, and a more honest – if harsh – reality check for the customers: “Sorry, we cannot afford to maintain your ugly investment forever. Let’s come to an arrangement on how you move to our single, best, invested, up-to-date product portfolio, before you start running off to our competitors in despair”.

I sincerely hope that I’m proven wrong in my cruel cynical assessments, and I wish my Hyland and Perceptive colleagues a long and happy marriage, once the honeymoon period is over…

(VERY IMPORTANT: These are my personal opinions and are not necessarily representing the opinions of my current, previous or future employers. Phew, that was close…)

Are you a Manager or a Leader?

What makes a true leader?

I read a lot of articles on leadership and I find the use of the word “Leader” to be so vague and inconsistent that it often loses its meaning altogether. It’s most often used interchangeably with the word “manager”, when a manger leads a team of people.

I believe that Leadership is a special quality, rather than a skill. It can be nourished and honed, but I am not sure if it can be taught. Most people would instinctively recognise a true leader, so what are the key characteristics that distinguish them from an otherwise excellent manager?

  • Vision – A true leader is able to look beyond the current obstacles and issues and understand the longer term objectives. Create a strategy that works to achieve long-term goals and harnessing creativity and innovation to succeed.
  • Courage – A leader is prepared to take risks. Decisions that challenge the status-quo and can often be controversial. A true leader knows that failure, is a key part of the learning process and not only tolerates it, but actively embraces it.
  • Communication – A leader listens and shares. True leaders are compulsive communicators and educators. They bring people on board by being open and communicating effectively and continuously. The only way to effectively lead change is to make people buy into the same vision that you are working towards. And the only way to achieve this is if you are prepared to actively listen and consider your team’s views and honestly share your thinking.
  • Empathy – True leaders lead from within not from the front. One of the most fundamental differences between a typical manager and a true leader is that a leader considers himself, or herself, to be part of the team not managing a And more importantly, the team have to see them that way too. A true leader invests time in understanding the individuals in the team and has a personal relationship with them. A leader sees the team as a collection of skilled individuals, where everyone contributes their own unique qualities and skills. The better the leader understands the strengths and issues of each team member, the more valuable that member becomes to the team.
  • Inspiration – True leaders inspire the people that work for them. A true leader enjoys respect and trust from his team. Nothing brings more cohesion in a team than having a common vision that everyone believes in and a leader who they trust and look up to.
  • Passion – A true leader is never on a two-year career rotation plan. A true leader has passion for the goals they try to achieve, the product they are launching or the project they are driving. They build a loyalty and a commitment to that end-goal, defend it passionately from any detractors and consider it their own personal target. A leader is not able to walk away from a job until the goal is achieved.

I have met many managers in my life, but very few true leaders. I have even been on “Leadership” courses where the emphasis was on reporting structures, defining metrics, resolving conflict and performing peer assessments, but nothing on how to be an effective leader.

Organisations – particularly large complex organisations – need to take a hard look at their management structures and executive careers: Do they have mechanisms for identifying, encouraging and rewarding true leaders? Do they promote young people with leadership qualities or are they left festering in minor projects? Do they appoint pivotal positions based on leadership skills or just seniority?

And let’s all start using the term “Leadership” more accurately, not as a euphemism for management.

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